Jeffrey Goldberg’s report in The Atlantic, “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers,” met with flat denials by the White House. But President Trump’s actions speak louder than his words. In addition to the many other incidents that have been covered by news organizations, where Trump disparaged members of the Armed Forces, and viciously attacked Gold Star families, there’s another action he took, that goes beyond his words to demonstrate an appalling level of contempt for the military community.
If you have any lingering doubt that President Trump treats America’s brave, patriotic military heroes like “suckers,” please consider this:
President Trump ignored the voices of the entire military community and sold out our brave military heroes and veterans to greedy, unscrupulous corporate scofflaws like Wells Fargo that engage in predatory and illegal practices and have a history of preying on military service members, veterans, and their families.
Those predatory, illegal practices often create financial readiness problems that can cause members of the Armed Forces to lose their security clearances, harming their military careers, costing our nation the full benefit of their extensive training and expertise, and jeopardizing our national security.
Pres. Trump even hosted a signing ceremony in the White House with representatives of unscrupulous, predatory banking interests — behind closed doors — to celebrate his shameful, anti-consumer, anti-military act. Then the White House released a photo, showing him surrounded by gleeful GOP representatives of Congress and banking trade associations whose member banks have been repeatedly caught violating state and federal consumer protection laws, scamming their customers and engaging in massive fraud.
His signature means that military service members and veterans are being denied basic, precious Constitutional rights they risk their lives and sacrifice to defend.
Those are legal rights that others — such as car dealers — were granted by Congress, and that President Trump himself has exploited to the hilt, as the most litigious president in U.S. history, while denying the same rights to members of the Armed Forces.
President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Republican Members of Congress killed the Obama Administration Rule That Would have Freed Wronged Consumers, Including Military Service Members, to Fight Back in Court Against Corporate Scofflaws That Rip Them Off
In 2016, The Military Coalition, a consortium of uniformed services and veterans organizations representing more than 5.5 million current and former servicemembers and their families and survivors, spoke up publicly for ensuring access to justice for all, including active duty military service members and veterans.
The Coalition includes familiar household names such as AMVETS, the National Military Family Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. They united in an effort to help ensure that military service members are free to join forces to defend themselves from illegal acts committed by unscrupulous banking interests, predatory lenders, and crooked debt collectors.
The military organizations urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to finalize a proposed rule to restore the Constitutional right to band together and fight back in an open court of law against corporate lawbreakers who prey on military personnel. Greedy, unpatriotic corporations like Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo Preyed on Military Service Members
The scandal-riddled bank got caught illegally seizing vehicles from active duty military service members without even bothering to get a court order — a blatant violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
The SCRA has always enjoyed widespread bi-partisan support. It’s aimed at ensuring that military servicemembers can focus on defending our nation and fulfilling their mission without the stress and distractions posed by financial issues that are often very difficult and time-consuming to resolve, even for consumers who are not serving in a remote location half way around the world, on a submarine or aircraft carrier in the middle of an ocean, or in the midst of a war zone.
During the Obama Administration, federal investigators were alerted about a complaint that a North Carolina member of the Army National Guard, Dennis Singleton, filed with the Army’s Legal Assistance Program. He told the Legal Assistance attorney that Wells Fargo suddenly repossessed his car in 2015, just as he was deploying to Afghanistan to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom. Wells Fargo sold his car at an auction, then sought a deficiency balance of over $10,000 from him and his family — leaving them with no car, trashed credit, and a huge debt.
The investigators corroborated his complaint. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, they also uncovered “a pattern of unlawful repossessions spanning over more than seven years.”
Under fire from the DOJ, Wells Fargo eventually admitted it had illegally seized over 400 vehicles from active duty troops, without giving them any opportunity to defend themselves in court. The DOJ also charged Wells Fargo with violating the federal law against exceeding the 6% interest rate cap on loans to service members, making them more likely to default. Wells Fargo finally agreed to pay the harmed military personnel $4 million, repair their credit, and refrain from violating those laws in the future.
But there’s more….
Army Staff Sergeant Jin Nakamura was stunned to find out, while he was serving overseas in Operation Iraqi Freedom, that Wells Fargo had seized his 2006 Nissan Altima — even though he had arranged for direct payments from his account before he was deployed to his new duty station.
It wasn’t until later, when Staff Sergeant Nakamura filed a private, civil class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and other service members who were also harmed by the same illegal practices at Wells Fargo, that the cases of over 400 more active duty military personnel came to light. In a shocking display of hutzpah, Wells Fargo was busily ripping them off the same way, and seizing their vehicles, while the DOJ’s investigation was actually already underway.
According to Staff Sergeant Nakamura’s attorney, Bryce Bell, the contract that the Staff Sergeant signed when he bought his car did not include a clause that would have forced him to submit his case to the unfair, rigged system dominated by crooked corporations, known as “arbitration.” So he was free to fight back against Wells Fargo in an open, public court of law. His class action litigation settled when Wells Fargo finally agreed to refund $5 million in compensation the bank owed Staff Sergeant Nakamura and the hundreds of other service members.
That freedom to join forces in order to fight back against such scams, like Staff Sergeant Nakamura did on behalf of hundreds of other brave Members of the Armed Forces, is super-important for active duty military personnel. That’s because they may not be able to fight back at all, if they must act alone — especially if they are serving in a remote location or a war zone.
That freedom was guaranteed by the 7th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but radical, controversial decisions issued by Republican-appointed Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have robbed wronged workers, consumers — including military Servicemembers — and small business owners of their right to fight back in a court of law.
Under the leadership of President Obama’s appointee Richard Cordray, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sided with pro-consumer groups and the military organizations, and issued a rule that would have restored that Constitutional right in a major way, freeing victims of predatory lenders and crooked banks to band together and fight back in court. But it was immediately under attack.
Crooked banks, along with Republican Senators and Representatives who benefit handsomely from their campaign cash, cooked up a scheme to kill the consumer watchdog agency’s rule in Congress before it could even take effect. Their goal: to let crooked banks get away with ripping off American consumers — including members of the Armed Forces — with little or no fear of being held accountable.
So the lawbreakers could evade having to face the music in an open, public court of law, where judges and juries are tasked with applying the law, the banks were dead-set on depriving American consumers and military Servicemembers of their Constitutional rights and forcing them to submit to a rigged, privatized “alternative” system dominated by the greedy, lawbreaking special interests themselves — called “forced arbitration.”
When the CFPB proposed the rule, The Military Coalition wrote in support:
“Forced arbitration is an un-American system wherein service members’ claims against a corporation are funneled into a rigged, secretive system in which all the rules, including the choice of the arbitrator, are picked by the corporation. Found in almost every financial services contract, forced arbitration clauses systematically include a provision banning the rights of consumers to band together to hold a corporation accountable. Given the exponential and expansive use of these clauses by financial institutions in contracts with service members, prohibiting the practice of forcing service members to surrender fundamental Constitutional and statutory rights through the use of pre-dispute forced arbitration clauses is now more critical than ever.
Our service members protect our nation against both foreign and domestic threats. The sacrifices and logistical undertakings they and their families make in order to serve are compelling reasons alone to ensure they are not only shielded from predatory financial practices and unscrupulous lenders, but are also able to enforce their congressionally mandated rights through our civil justice system if and when violations arise.
However, class action waivers work against these rights. They are particularly abusive when enforced against service members, who may not be in a position to individually challenge a financial institution’s illegal or unfair practices because of limited resources or frequent relocations or deployment. Furthermore, for those service members on active duty and serving overseas, it is critical to retain the ability to get justice without having to interrupt their service and distract their attention from the mission at hand. Since these types of service members cannot participate full time in pursuing an individual claim, being able to enforce their rights through the class action mechanism is essential. Thus service members should receive the benefits of participating in a class action despite their inability to shoulder the burden of bringing a claim alone.
Our nation’s veterans should not be deprived of the Constitutional rights and freedoms that they put their lives on the line to protect, including the right to have their claims heard in a trial by a jury when their rights are violated. The catastrophic consequences these clauses pose for our all-voluntary military fighting force’s morale and our national security are vital reasons for the CFPB to act quickly to finalize the regulations.”
But instead of siding with The Military Coalition, the GOP sided with the crooked banks and predatory lenders.
The Republican majority in Congress decided to exploit a rarely used law, the Congressional Review Act, to overturn the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule. That allowed them to undo the rule with a simple majority vote, avoiding a filibuster in the Senate. Using that arcane Act also had the added impact of prohibiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from issuing a similar rule in the future, unless Congress specifically allows the agency to revisit the issue.
The legislation to overturn the rule, House Joint Resolution 111, was hotly debated on the Floor of the House of Representatives. Then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other pro-consumer, pro-military champions spoke forcefully against the measure. All of the Democrats sided with consumer advocacy organizations and the military, and voted NO. But all of the Republicans, with the lone exception of Rep. Walter Jones, who had served in the North Carolina National Guard, voted AYE, and the resolution passed in the House and moved on to the Senate.
Once again, the resolution was hotly debated. Democratic Senators, including Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a distinguished U.S. Army Veteran, spoke eloquently in defense of preserving the rule. Sen. Elizabeth Warren delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate Floor, blasting the legislation and quoting from letters from military groups, raising their voices for all to hear.
When the vote was taken, all the Democratic Senators sided with the military coalition and voted NO, to preserve the rule. Only two Republican Senators, Lindsey Graham and John Kennedy — both attorneys — voted NO. All their GOP colleagues voted AYE, siding with the crooked banks, resulting in a tie. For a brief time, the future of the CFPB’s rule hung in the balance.
In a historic moment of high drama, Republican Vice President Mike Pence rode to the Capitol to break the tie, arriving on the Senate Floor around midnight. He voted AYE, siding with the crooked banks, and against the military, sending the measure to President Trump’s desk.
To his shame, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who had championed the successful effort in Congress to grant car dealers a special exemption from forced arbitration and restore the Constitutional rights of car dealers to have their cases heard in a court of law, voted against restoring those same rights to regular citizens and members of the Armed Forces.
Our nation’s military doesn’t often ask anything from their Commander in Chief. In return for their selfless, immeasurable sacrifice and deep devotion to keeping our nation safe and defeating our enemies, they rarely ask their Commander in Chief for anything in return, other than to have their backs.
But in a rare move, the military community asked President Trump to veto the measure. The American Legion publicly announced their decision to call on him for a veto, declaring:
“Legion calls on Trump to veto measure that strips servicemembers and veterans of vital financial protections”
“The leader of the nation’s largest veterans service organization expressed concern over the loss of financial protections for veterans and servicemembers in the wake of a U.S. Senate late night vote on Wednesday.
Fifty-one members of the Senate voted to overturn a recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule on arbitration agreements intended to provide consumers with an opportunity to sue in court when they have been harmed by financial institutions.
‘Every servicemember and veteran should have the right and responsibility to confront predatory loan practices,”’ said American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan. ‘We will not be silent while banks and payday loan shops rip off servicemembers and veterans.’
But President Trump utterly ignored their pleas. Instead, he signed that travesty into law. Among the invited guests who smiled down upon Pres. Trump as he signed the anti-consumer, anti-military measure: GOP members of Congress and a representative of an enormous banking trade association that includes banking interests like Wells Fargo.
Because of the Republican members of Congress, Vice President Pence, and President Trump, scofflaw corporations continue to trample on the Constitutional rights of our military heroes. Crooked banks remain free to force our nation’s military Servicemembers to submit disputes to an unfair, rigged, secretive forum that those special interests dominate — private, mandatory arbitration.
The laws to protect military service members as consumers are often ignored in arbitration. No matter how unfair the decisions rendered by the arbitrators are, there is usually no opportunity to appeal. Given how burdensome and rigged arbitration is, it’s rarely even used for consumer cases.
So whenever President Trump or Vice-President Pence proclaim their supposed fondness and regard for our nation’s military Servicemembers, please keep in mind that when the chips were down, they eagerly, gleefully went out of their way to betray them to their lawbreaking Big Bank buddies.
Senator Chuck Grassley: Arbitration Hypocrite
U.S. Senator Grassley’s statement in support of S 1140, granting car dealers a special exemption, freeing them from forced arbitration:
“While arbitration serves an important function as an efficient alternative to court, some trade-offs must be considered by both parties, such as limited judicial review and less formal procedures regarding discovery and rules of evidence. When mandatory binding arbitration is forced upon a party, for example when it is placed in a boiler-plate agreement, it deprives the weaker party the opportunity to elect another forum.
As a proponent of arbitration I believe it is critical to ensure that the selection of arbitration is voluntary and fair…Unequal bargaining power exists in contracts between automobile and truck dealers and their manufacturers. The manufacturer drafts the contract and presents it to dealers with no opportunity to negotiate…The purpose of arbitration is to reduce costly, time-consuming litigation, not to force a party to an adhesion contract to waive access to judicial or administrative forums for the pursuit of rights under State law…..
This legislation will go a long way toward ensuring that parties will not be forced into binding arbitration and thereby lose important statutory rights. I am confident that given its many advantages arbitration will often be elected. But it is essential for public policy reasons and basic fairness that both parties to this type of contract have the freedom to make their own decisions based on the circumstances of the case.”
While S. 1140 did not pass, auto dealers were given an exemption from the FAA, in order to preserve their rights, thanks to passage of H.R. 2215 in 2002. That act, now codified at 15 U.S.C. section 1226, prohibits auto manufacturers from including any type of pre-dispute arbitration clause in franchise contracts with auto dealers. Specifically, it provides that arbitration may be used to settle a controversy arising out of a motor vehicle franchise contract only if both parties consent, in writing, and only after the dispute arises.